Affaire royale, p.12
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       Affaire Royale, p.12

         Part #1 of Cordina's Royal Family series by Nora Roberts
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  “I’m a realist. Whatever develops between Brie and me now is very likely to change once her memory returns.”

  “And yet you want to help her get to that point.”

  “She needs to remember,” Reeve said evenly. “She suffers.”

  Alex looked at the picture again, was drawn to it. “I know that.”

  “Do you? Do you know how guilty she feels that she can’t remember the people who want her love? Do you know how frightened she is when she has one of the dreams that take her to the edge of remembering, then leave her lost?”

  “No.” Alexander dropped the pen. “She doesn’t confide in me—I think I see why. And I think I see why my father trusts you completely.” Looking down at his hands, he felt helpless, frustrated. “She has dreams?”

  “She remembers the dark, hearing voices, being afraid.” He thought of her dream about the knife, but kept his silence there. That was for Brie to tell. “It seems to be little more than that.”

  “I see. I understand a great deal more now.” Again Alexander’s gaze locked on his. “You’ve a right to resent my questions, Reeve, but I’ve the right to ask them.”

  “We’ll agree to both of those.” Rising, Reeve put an end to the interview himself. “Just remember, I’ll do everything I’m capable of doing to keep your sister safe.”

  Alex stood to face him. “We can both agree to that, as well.”

  * * *

  It was late when Reeve stood under a hot, soothing shower. He needed it more than he needed an empty bed. His evening had been spent escorting Brie to a dinner party, where they’d both been deluged with questions on the wedding. When, who, where? How much? How soon? How many?

  If things didn’t begin to turn around for Brie after the ball, they’d no longer be able to use preparations for that as an excuse for the lack of plans.

  All they needed now was a fictitious wedding date, Reeve thought, letting water pour over his head and beat on his neck. If things didn’t begin to jell soon, they’d find themselves standing at the altar just to keep the tongues from wagging.

  That would be the ultimate in fantasy and foolishness, wouldn’t it? he asked himself. Married to prevent rumors from generating. Yet how much more difficult could that be than what was going on now?

  He’d had to sit through dinner, watching her, being congratulated on his good fortune. He’d had to sit within a few feet of her and remember what it had been like for them when they’d just been two people on a narrow bunk in a tiny cabin.

  Trouble was, he remembered too well, needed too much. Since then he’d been very careful to avoid any opportunity for them to be quite that alone. When they weren’t in the palace or in the car, they were at a party or one of her charity functions. He took her to the AHC headquarters or the Red Cross. He accompanied her to the museum, but he never suggested another sail.

  Neither of them could afford it, he decided as he stepped from the shower. Certainly neither of them had planned on his forgetting the rules and falling in love with her. He still had a job to do. She still had a life to rediscover. Once both were accomplished, the ties would be broken.

  As they should be, Reeve thought. With a towel hooked around his waist, he rubbed a fresh one over his hair. Brie didn’t belong in a ramshackle farmhouse in the mountains. He didn’t belong in a palace. It was as simple as that.

  Then he stepped through to the bedroom and nothing was simple.

  Brie sat in an armchair, a low light shining over her shoulder as she thumbed through a book. The nerves were there, but so was determination. She managed to hide the first as she looked up.

  “I think I’ve always loved Steinbeck,” she said as she set the book aside. “He makes me feel as though I’ve been to Monterey.” She rose, and though she’d been too nervous to plan it, she looked like a bride. The simple white robe fell to her ankles and covered her arms to the wrist. Her hair fell over her shoulders, where lace gave a glimpse of the skin beneath.

  Reeve stood where he was, as stunned by the ache as he’d ever been stunned by anything. “Did you want to borrow a book?”

  “No.” She stepped toward him as though she were confident. “You wouldn’t come to me, Reeve. I thought it was time I came to you.” Needing the contact, she took his hands. Somehow it made the confidence genuine.“You can’t send me away,” she murmured. “I won’t go.”

  No, he couldn’t send her away. Common sense might tell him to, but common sense hadn’t a chance. “Pulling rank again, Gabriella?”

  “Only if I must.” She lifted his hand to her face a moment. “Tell me you don’t want me. I might hate you for it, but I won’t make a fool of myself again.”

  He knew he could lie, and that the lie might be best for her. But the lie wouldn’t come. “I can’t tell you I don’t want you. I doubt I could tell you even if I thought I could make you believe it. And I’m very likely to make a fool of myself.”

  With a smile, she wrapped her arms around him. “Hold me. Just hold me.” She closed her eyes as her cheek pressed against his shoulder. This was where she’d wanted to be. “I’ve been going crazy waiting, wondering. I nearly lost my nerve tonight coming down the hall.”

  “It might have been best if you had. It’s hardly discreet for you to visit me in my room at midnight.”

  Laughing, she tossed her head back. “No, it’s not. So let’s make the best of it.”

  With her arms flung around his neck, she found his mouth with hers. It was what she wanted, all she wanted, Brie realized as she poured herself into the kiss. Whatever she had to fight to get another day successfully behind her, if she could share the night with him, she could do it.

  “Reeve.” Slowly she drew away so that she could see him. “For tonight, let’s not have any pretenses, any deceptions.” She brought his hand to her face again, but this time she pressed her mouth to it. “I need you. Can that be enough?”

  “It’s enough.” He loosened the sash of her robe. “Let me show you.”

  The light was low, the windows open. She could smell the sweet peas that climbed gleefully on the trellis just below. When he slipped the robe from her shoulders, she shivered. But from excitement, not from the breeze.

  “You’re lovely, Brie.” Now that they were bare, Reeve followed the slope of her shoulders with his hands. “Every time I see you, it’s like the first time. The light is different, the angle, but it strikes me just as it did the first time.”

  He brushed her hair back from her face until only his hand framed it. Then he watched her, only watched, until her heart began to thud. He kissed her, once, twice, slowly but lightly. As her lids fluttered closed, he brushed his lips over them, as well. Gentleness he hadn’t shown before. She’d come to him. Now he could give it.

  When he lifted her in his arms, her eyes opened in surprise. She hadn’t expected an old-fashioned, romantic gesture from him. There was much more he had to give that she hadn’t expected.

  They lay together on the bed, naked, needing. But he brought her fingers to his lips, kissing them one by one. When she reached for him he lowered to her, but only for slow kisses, light caresses. Unlike the first time, this fire only smoldered, half tormenting, half delighting.

  She’d thought he’d already shown her every point of pleasure her body was capable of. Now he showed her more, exquisitely.

  Brie knew there was a restlessness in him. A violence. The first time they’d loved, she’d felt it, sensed it, wanted it. Tonight he brought none of it with him. This night was tender. Tenderness that brought a heavy, misty pleasure she hadn’t explored. This excitement was different, drifting, not soothing but sweet. She gave herself to it, willing, for the moment, to be led.

  He’d taken her innocence. In some strange way Reeve was aware that she’d given a portion of his back to him. It hadn’t been something he’d looked for or wanted, nor was it something he could have prevented. Perhaps one day, when their lives separated and he had to deal with what he’d had and what he’d lost,
he’d resent it. Tonight, when she was close, soft, giving, he only treasured it.

  So he went slowly, gently. What passed between them this night would be something neither of them would ever be able to forget.

  He nibbled, finding the long narrow bone of her hip fascinating. He knew just how strong she was. After all, he’d followed her through days of work and demands and evenings that were social, but equally taxing. Yet just there her skin was so fragile, so sensitive. She had the small, delicate body of a woman who lived her life in luxury. But she had the mind, he knew, of a woman who never took one moment of it for granted.

  Is that why he loved her? Did it matter?

  She could only sigh as his mouth traced lower, lower down her body. He was taking her places she’d never imagined. This world was dark, but there was no fear. Just anticipation. It drummed through her, to be joined by arousal, pleasure, satisfaction. One layered on top of the other.

  There were night birds calling to each other, but the murmur of her name on Reeve’s lips seemed sweeter. The breeze whispered across her face, but his breath, skimming across her skin was warmer. The sheets were soft, cool only until they were touched with flesh that quickly warmed them. If she let her eyes open, she could see her own hand stroke over him. And triumph in it.

  His tongue traced, teased, lingered, then invaded. Suddenly she was catapulted out of the dark, soothing world and into the light.

  She wasn’t aware that her fingers gripped her bedsheets as she arched. She wasn’t aware that she called out his name mindlessly. But she was aware, all at once, that pleasure could be almost too much to bear. She knew, as he drew from her relentlessly, that he was giving to her, as well. Everything, all things, were there for her to take if only she had the strength. She’d find it.

  Quiet thoughts vanished. Turbulent ones tumbled into her. To have him—completely, enduringly. To know that he was rocked by the power even as she was. To feel the shudder that told her he, too, was overwhelmed. That was enough to both ensure survival and to make survival unimportant. Though she trembled, dazed, he didn’t give her time to catch her breath before he drove her up and beyond again.

  Then, when she thought there could be no more, he took her with all the fierce need he’d kept harnessed.

  Chapter 9

  Brie knew she shouldn’t have stayed with him through the night, but she found she wanted, needed, to sleep with him, even if it were only for a few hours. It had been so easy in the dark, quiet night to forget discretion and to take what lovers are entitled to. It had been so sweet to drift off to sleep with her hand caught in his. If in the morning there were consequences, they’d be worth those few hours.

  It was Reeve who awoke first and roused her just before dawn when the light was gray and indistinct. This was the time between, when the night birds began to sleep and the lark awakened. Brie felt the light kiss on her shoulder, and merely sighed and snuggled closer. The nip on her earlobe made her shudder—but lazily, comfortably.

  “Brie, the sun’s coming up.”

  “Mmmm. Kiss me again.”

  He kissed her again, this time on the lips, until he was sure she was awake. “The servants will be up and around soon,” he told her as her eyes half opened. “You shouldn’t be here.”

  “Worried about your reputation again?” She yawned and wrapped her arms around his neck.

  Reeve grinned and comfortably cupped her breast. She made him feel so … at home. Had he just noticed it? “Naturally.”

  Pleased with herself, she twined his hair around her finger. “I suppose I’ve compromised you.”

  “You did come to my room, after all. How could I risk refusing a princess?”

  She arched a brow. “Very wise. So …” She touched her tongue to her top lip. “If I commanded you to make love with me again, right now—”

  “I’d tell you to get your buns out of bed.” He kissed her before she could object. “Your Serene Highness.”

  “Very well,” she said loftily, and rolled aside. She stood, naked, and shook back her hair. He thought then that she was no Sleeping Beauty just coming to life, but a woman who already knew and accepted her own power. “Since you cast me aside so easily, you’ll have to come to me next time.” She picked up her discarded robe, but took her time about putting it on. “That is, unless you’d like to be tossed in the dungeons. They are, I’m told, very deep, dank and dark.”

  He watched her slide one arm in a sleeve. “Blackmail?”

  “I’ve no conscience.” She drew on the other sleeve, then slowly crossed and tied the robe.

  No, she was no Sleeping Beauty, he thought again. She was a woman who deserved more than promises. “Brie …” Reeve sat up, pulling a hand through his hair. “Alexander and I had a talk yesterday.”

  Brie kept her hands on the sash, though they were no longer relaxed. “Oh? About me, I assume.”

  “Yes, about you.”

  “Well?”

  “That royal tone doesn’t work on me, Brie. You should know that by now.”

  As if it were vital, she smoothed out the satin of the sash. “What does?”

  “Honesty.”

  She looked back at him, then sighed. It was an answer she should have expected. “All right, then. Alex and I did our own share of talking—arguing—yesterday. I can’t say I appreciate the two of you getting together for a chat about me and my welfare.”

  “He’s concerned. I’m concerned.”

  “Is that an excuse for everything?”

  “It’s a reason for everything.”

  Her breath came out slowly. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be unfair, Reeve. I don’t, though it might appear differently, even mean to be ungrateful. It just seems as though while everyone’s so concerned, so worried, everyone continues to make demands.” She began to walk as she spoke—to the window and away, to the mirror and back again, as if she weren’t quite ready to face herself that morning. “They want me to go along with Loubet’s plan about covering up the amnesia so that there’s no panic and the investigation can go on quietly. They want you and me to go on with this deception about being engaged. I think—I’m beginning to think that bothers me most of all.”

  “I see.”

  She glanced up, unsmiling. “I wonder if you can,” she murmured. “On one hand I get sympathy, concern, and on the other, obligations.”

  “Is there something you’d rather do? Some way you’d rather try?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “No. What did Alexander conclude, then?”

  “He decided to trust me. Have you?”

  She looked at him in surprise, then realized how she must have appeared. “You know I trust you. I wouldn’t be here with you if I didn’t.”

  He made the decision instantly. Sometimes it was the best way. “Can you clear your schedule today and come with me?”

  “Yes.”

  “No questions?”

  She moved her shoulders. “All right, if you want one. Where?”

  “To the little farm.” He waited for her reaction, but she only watched him. “I think it’s time we worked together.”

  She closed her eyes a moment, then crossed to the bed. “Thank you.”

  He felt his emotions rise and tangle again. They always would, he realized, with her. “You might not be grateful later.”

  “Yes, I will.” Bending, she kissed him, not in passion, but in friendship. “No matter what.”

  The corridors were dim when she left Reeve’s room to go to her own. But her spirit wasn’t. She had hope again. This wouldn’t be a day where she just followed the schedule that had been set for her. Today, at last, she’d do something to bring the past and present together. Perhaps the key was at the little farm. Perhaps with Reeve’s help she’d find it.

  Quietly Brie opened the door to her bedroom, anxious to begin. Humming a little, she walked to the windows and began pushing aside the curtains so light could spill in.

  “So.”

  She jolted, wh
irled, then swore under her breath. “Nanny.”

  The old woman straightened in the chair and gave Brie a long, steady look. If her bones were stiff, she gave no sign. Brie felt the patience, the disapproval, and felt the blood creep into her cheeks.

  “Well you should blush, young lady, tiptoeing into your room with the sun.”

  “Have you been here all night?”

  “Yes. Which is more than you can say.” Nanny tapped a long, curved fingernail against the arm of the chair. She saw the change, but, then, she’d seen it days before when Brie had come back from sailing. When a woman was old, she was still a woman. “So you decided to take a lover. Tell me, are you pleased with yourself?”

  Defiant, and amazed that she felt the need to be, Brie lifted her chin. “Yes.”

  Nanny studied her—the tumbled hair, the flushed cheeks and the eyes where the echo of passion remained. “That’s as it should be,” she murmured. “You’re in love.”

  She could have denied it. It was on the tip of her tongue to do so, when she realized it would be a lie. Just one more lie. “Yes, I’m in love.”

  “Then I’ll tell you to be careful.” Nanny’s face looked old and pale in the morning light, but her eyes were ageless. “When a woman’s in love with her lover, she risks more than her body, more than her time. You understand?”

  “Yes. I think I do.” Brie smiled and moved over to kneel at Nanny’s feet. “Why did you sleep all night in a chair instead of your bed?”

  “Perhaps you’ve taken a lover, but I still look after you. I brought you warm milk—you don’t sleep well.”

  Brie looked over and saw the thick cup on the table. “And I worried you because I wasn’t here.” She brought the woman’s hard little hand to her cheek. “I’ m sorry, Nanny.”

  “I suspected you were with the American.” She sniffed a little. “A pity his blood isn’t as blue as his eyes, but you could do worse.”

  The diamond weighed heavily on her finger. “It’s still just a dream, isn’t it?”

  “You don’t dream enough,” Nanny said briskly. “So I brought you milk and found you’d looked for a different kind of comfort.”

  This time Brie laughed. “Would you scold me if I said I much preferred it?”

  “I’d simply advise you to keep your preferences from your father for a while yet.” Nanny’s voice was dry and amused as Brie grinned up at her. “Perhaps you have no more use for the other comfort I brought you.” Reaching beside her, she pulled out a plain, round-faced rag doll in a tattered pinafore. “When you were a child and were restless in the night, you’d reach for this.”

  “Poor ugly thing,” Brie murmured as she took it in her hands.

  “You called her ‘Henrietta Homely.’”

  “I hope she didn’t mind,” Brie began as she ran a hand over the doll’s hair. Then she went stiff and very still.

  A young girl in a small bed with pink hangings, pink sheets, pink spread. White frills on a vanity table. Rosebuds on the wallpaper. Music drifting up from far away. A waltz, slow and romantic. And there was a woman, the woman from the portrait, smiling, murmuring, laughing a little as she leaned over the bed, so that the emeralds in her ears caught the low light. Her dress was like the emeralds, green and rich. It rustled musically as the best of silks do. She smelled of apple blossoms, of spring, of youth.

  “Gabriella.” Nanny put a hand to Brie’s shoulder and squeezed. Beneath the thin robe, she could feel the skin, icy. “Gabriella.”

  “My room,” Brie whispered as she continued to stare down at the doll. “My room when I was a girl—what color?”

  “Pink,” Nanny said haltingly. “It was all pink and white, like a pastry.”

  “And my mother.” Brie’s fingers dug into the rag doll, but she didn’t know it. Sweat pearled on her forehead, but she didn’t know that, either. As long as she pushed, as long as she held on, she could see and remember. “Did she have a green silk dress? Emerald green. A ball gown?”

  “Strapless.” With an effort, the old woman kept her voice calm and quiet. “The waist was very snug. The skirt was very full.”

  “And her scent was like apple blossoms. She was so beautiful.”

  “Yes.” Nanny’s strong fingers held her shoulder firmly. “Do you remember?”

  “I— She came to see me. There was music, a waltz playing. She came to tuck me in.”

  “She would always. First you, then Alexander, then Bennett. Your father would come up if he could slip away, but they’d both come to the nursery before they went to bed. I’ll go get your father now.”

  “No.” Brie pressed the doll close. She couldn’t hold the image any longer. It left her weak and breathless. “No, not yet. That’s all there is. Just that one picture, and I need so much more. Nanny …” Eyes brimming, Brie looked up again. “I did love her. Finally I can feel it. I loved her so much. Now, remembering that, it’s like losing her again.”

  With her old nurse stroking her hair, Brie lay down her head and wept. The bedroom door opened no more than a crack, then shut soundlessly.

  * * *

 
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